Women undertake 72% of all unpaid work in Australia

Women undertake 72% of all unpaid work in Australia & the consequences are egregious

“Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing,” New Zealand feminist economist and former politician Professor Marilyn Waring CNZM said.

Waring gave the 7th Annual Sydney Community Foundation Maybanke Lecture on 16th April on two hot topics in Australian politics today: “Work and Representation”.

She is a pioneer of feminist economics, Nobel Prize nominee, the youngest ever politician in New Zealand parliament and Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology.

Waring rose to international acclaim when her now revolutionary book Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth, was first published in 1988.

Invisibility of unpaid work

“Much of my work in political economy has focused on the invisibility of unpaid work. In Australia, unpaid childcare is the single largest sector of Australia’s economy. Second largest contributor is unpaid caring.

“I’m not talking about repaying this time. It’s about the redistribution of government resources. It’s a productivity and choice issue. Why should women spend all their time in unpaid work on a road to poverty. The poorer I am, the longer it takes me to do the things I need to do.

“In 2017, Price Waterhouse Cooper research concluded women undertook 72 per cent of all unpaid work in Australia. The bulk of this unpaid work is childcare. It is Australia’s largest industry – three times the financial and insurance services industry, the largest industry in the formal economy. The rest of unpaid work combined is the second largest sector in the Australian economy.

“This has egregious outcomes that are totally gendered; childcare, superannuation, equal pay and pay equity, the right to leisure – Australian males lives ride on the exploitation of women’s work,” said Waring.

Unpaid work almost half of GDP

Waring highlighted in her Maybanke Lecture, the local contributions to this accounting evolution, when Australian economist Duncan Ironmonger adapted traditional input-output tables to the household. In 1992, using a national time use survey, he found that Australians did about 380 million hours of unpaid household work each week, compared with 272 million hours in paid employment. That meant that households accounted for more than 48 per cent of total production.

Then, in 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recorded similar figures, but illustrated extremely gendered outcomes in contributions to the economy, as well as significant changes in the size of different contributors to the market sector. Though narrowly defined, the figure for the individual, replacement cost of this unpaid labour was 43.5 per cent of GDP. The housekeeper replacement cost was 41.6 per cent and the opportunity cost method recorded an equivalent of 57.1 per cent of GDP.

“How is it possible to continue public policy making in this context, where the largest sectors of economic activity in a nation is just invisible?” asked Waring.

Price of milk

“The time use focus has not accounted for pregnancy, birth, lactation, mothering – the essence of reproduction.”

Waring cited Canberra based Julie Smith, the world’s leading researcher on breastmilk and the National Accounts. Smith has been working on valuing breastmilk and having it included in the Australian GDP.

“This food production is economic, a major investment in healthcare, nutrition and nurture, as well as lifetime risk reduction in health and education. It does not require plastic and does not make waste. Smith’s research on the Australian Time Use Survey of New Mothers found that having an infant added forty-four hours a week to a woman’s unpaid workload and exclusive breastfeeding took seventeen to twenty hours of mother’s time.

“Her estimates of this annual food production is AU$2.1 billion per year. This has no value in the GDP. But the GDP loves breasts when they are part of the vast international pornography market. Milk from sheep, goats, cows and buffalo appear in New Zealand’s national accounts, but not women’s human breast milk. There are markets for breast milk bags, bottles, storage cups, containers for freezing expressed milk, lots of advice on expressing milk, storing milk, reusing frozen milk. Some websites offer it for sale, and a free donation in others.

“In 1914 Maybanke wrote of compulsory motherhood that “it had been long enough a matter of accident”. It was a woman’s right to choose when, and if, she would have children.

In 1975 Marilyn Waring was elected to the New Zealand Parliament at the age of just 23. She was one of the few female politicians who served through the turbulent years of Muldoon’s government. In her third term of office, Waring informed Muldoon that she intended to cross the floor and vote for the opposition bill which would make New Zealand nuclear free, Muldoon called a snap election and the government fell. New Zealand remained nuclear free.

“One of the pivotal points of Maybanke’s political strategies which I most admired was her move from the New South Wales suffrage campaign, to join the Federation movement [in the late 1800s]. Federation saw non Aboriginal women gain both the vote and the right to stand for parliament in the 1903 Federal election, although Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney were not elected until 1943.”

While this was not insignificant progress, Waring cited her favourite Maybanke quote from the early 1900s and its relevance still today “married women must bear the burden of life and the heavy end of the log”.

If Sydney were 100 women

Jane Jose, CEO Sydney Community Foundation said the issues of women’s representation, access to flexible work, and the lack of value placed on the nurturing and caring role provided by women underlies the financial vulnerability of many women in greater Sydney.

Recent research by Dr Rebecca Huntley for the Sydney Women’s Fund revealed 48% of women who work in Greater Sydney earn only $34,000 or less, and 40% of women are working as unpaid carers.

“These are pressing issues for older women who in this country are the largest group facing homelessness often after a life of juggling part-time work, family and carer responsibility,” said Ms Jose.

“Our recent Sydney Women’s Fund Portrait III Research found that 79% of women feel powerless to influence politics in Australia. It is an honour Professor Waring will share this timely presentation on progress and what remain the perils for women standing for office and how to re-engage women in politics and recognise women of Sydney for their valuable contribution in our society.”

Maybanke Legacy

The Annual Maybanke Lecture, named for Australian feminist and educator Maybanke Anderson, is an important contribution to the Sydney Community Foundation’s advocacy.

Founder of The Maybanke Fund and Vice Patron of Sydney Community Foundation Rosalind Strong AM said; “Professor Waring’s work and life are of immense interest to all of us. We are thrilled she could reflect on women’s progress since the 1890’s when Maybanke Anderson was an advocate for women and children’s rights, a writer, leader, feminist and early childhood education pioneer,” said Ms Strong.

You can make a difference by donating to The Maybanke Fund. Your donation today helps build the Fund for tomorrow and also provides the Maybanke Anderson Award for Indigenous students in Education, at Macquarie University.

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